31. The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Directed by: David Frankel
Written by: Aline Brosh McKenna
Based on: The Devil Wears Prada (2003) by Lauren Weisberger
Why it’s better: Two words: Meryl Streep. Her instantly iconic performance as Miranda Priestly is a large part of what makes the film great. But Aline Brosh McKenna’s screenplay also adds some much-needed depth and complexity to the characters, which is what audiences latched onto past Streep’s delicious villainy.
32. No Country for Old Men (2007)
Directed by: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Based on: No Country for Old Men (2005) by Cormac McCarthy
Why it’s better: Cormac McCarthy has a very distinctive style — sparse, deliberate, and frustratingly punctuation-free. In adapting his novel, the Coen brothers infused their own particular brand into the proceedings. The result is a movie that is more darkly comedic and, frankly, engaging than the original novel. And, nerd bonus: You don’t have to deal with the lack of punctuation.
33. Stardust (2007)
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn
Based on: Stardust (1999) by Neil Gaiman
Why it’s better: Though there are plot differences, the book and movie are tonally rather similar. The film has narration by Ian McKellen, giving it a storybook feel. But as with The Princess Bride, the film has an edge when it comes to the adventure portion of the fantasy adventure, which makes Stardust the movie a more edge-of-your-seat experience.
34. There Will Be Blood (2008)
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Based on: Oil! (1926-1927) by Upton Sinclair
Why it’s better: To be fair, There Will Be Blood isn’t exactly an adaptation of Oil! — Paul Thomas Anderson notably only considered the first 150 pages. Nevertheless, the film takes the themes and dark satire of the novel and, along with Anderson’s perspective, uses them to create something truly artful and far more affecting.
35. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009)
Directed by: Niels Arden Oplev
Written by: Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg
Based on: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2005) by Stieg Larsson
Why it’s better: There is a lot of extraneous journalistic exposition in the novel, a reflection of author Stieg Larsson’s primary career. The film cuts through all of that and tightens the focus on Larsson’s greatest creation, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). (The 2011 American film adaptation is also better than the novel, but not as good as the 2009 film.)
36. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
Directed by: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Written by: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Based on: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (1978) by Judi Barrett
Why it’s better: OK, much like Jumanji, this one’s totally unfair. It’s based on a children’s book (and a classic at that) that serves as only the vaguest inspiration for the film. But when it comes to the basic idea of food falling from the sky, the movie tells a more compelling version of that story. It may not be considered a classic yet, but it should be.
37. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach
Based on: Fantastic Mr Fox (1974) by Roald Dahl
Why it’s better: Wes Anderson isn’t the predictable choice for adapting a children’s novel — and Noah Baumbach is even less kid-friendly. But that’s what makes Fantastic Mr. Fox so good. It’s completely appropriate for children without dumbing anything down. At times, it’s staggeringly mature, yet still sweet.
38. Drive (2011)
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Written by: Hossein Amini
Based on: Drive (2005) by James Sallis
Why it’s better: Like the novel, the film Drive is a lot of style. There’s substance, too, but you have to read between the lines. Both the original and adaptation showcase restraint, but it works better onscreen, and those bursts of passion and violence, a strong point of Nicolas Winding Refn’s filmmaking, are particularly impressive
39. Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
Directed by: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Written by: Kelly Marcel
Based on: Fifty Shades of Grey (2011) by E.L. James
Why it’s better: Yes, really. Look, the movie is not Oscarworthy — or even Golden Globe–worthy — but it’s a much more competent and sexy version of the story than the book, which is clunky Twilight fan fiction with the names changed. Having a female director also helps in keeping the focus less on dull dom Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and more on female pleasure.